The Fire This Time

When the High Park inferno spared our home, our first emotion was relief. But even though we were lucky, we didn’t realize how much work was still left to do.

November 2012

When my family was allowed to return home, we found plenty to do: cleaning, airing out the campfire smell, lending a hand to our neighbors, and offering gratitude to all those who’d helped fight the fire and continued to pass by our house every day. We were delighted by how our community came together, the way people lined the roads, waving and clapping for firefighters, and erecting signs that offered help however they could. “Free pasture for displaced horses.” “Acreage available.” “Free coffee and soup.”

Slowly, we found our footing. Neighbors whose homes had been saved or had burned tried to right themselves from whatever swayback of emotion accompanied the news. We helped each other, talked through the sorrows and the anxieties. Some started right in on the rebuilding. The fire engines that had been coming off the mountain were soon replaced by construction trucks going up. We finally got some rain, and the charred mountains began to green. At that point, I figured it was over and “normal” life would resume. We all had plenty to do to restart the busy and full lives that needed our attentions once again.

Even so, something was still lingering in the air. It was more than just the smell of smoke that permeated throughout the summer. Although this particular fire had been extinguished, many of our neighbors canceled vacation plans. Others reported waking in the middle of the night, whenever the wind kicked up. Insomnia, I found, was rampant. My own children had nightmares about suddenly needing to get up and run. Most reported feeling some form of the jitters, and anxiety hung in the air as if it was entwined with the smoky residue. We were all breathing it in and spreading it to one another like a germ.

I could sense my own unease as well. I was on alert, even when I knew it was more or less over. Was that the smell of smoke? Where was it coming from? What was that helicopter doing up there? Was that a water tanker flying overhead, or just a regular plane?